The summer games settlin.., p.30
The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.30R.S. Grey
“No need to justify, Fred. I think it’s a brilliant plan. I’ll be there.”
She seemed too eager.
“Georgie. I’m serious. No actual daggers at the coffee shop,” I warned.
She smirked. “I wouldn’t dream of it. We all know justice is best served hot and foamy.”
FIRST THING THE following morning, I walked into my lawyer’s office in Hanover Square. He was already set up in a large conference room on the first floor. He took up nearly half of the large oak table and my PR team was spread out across the other half. Together they made up my brain trust, responsible for both legally extricating myself from Caroline’s grasp regardless of the baby situation and minimizing the collateral damage Andie would feel. It was early, but it looked like everyone had been there since the crack of dawn.
I slid a coffee in front of Dave and he barely looked up from the pile of work in front of him. I had no bloody clue what he was up to, but he had files and papers and two empty cups of coffees spread out before him. At the very least, he looked busy.
“Could I get you a coffee or a cup of tea?” his assistant asked me from the doorway.
I held up my half-full cup. “I’m good, Kathleen. Thank you.”
I felt rather useless standing there, watching them all work. I pulled out one of the chairs closest to Dave and waited for someone to take a break and fill me in on what they’d been doing all morning. Truly, it wasn’t necessary for me to be there, but I wanted to be as close to the solution as possible. For too long, my focus had been elsewhere, but with the games finished, it was time to show Caroline that playtime was over.
A few minutes later, Dave finally glanced up from his work.
“Fred, first of all, you’re a hell of a swimmer.”
I nodded in thanks and pulled my chair closer to him.
“That being said, you’ve worked yourself into a shite situation here.”
“I know that. Have the PR people worked out how to get me out of it yet?”
He shook his head and rifled through a few papers to get to a yellow legal pad buried underneath. “It just doesn’t look good. You see, if we ignore the fact that Caroline has behaved criminally and present the separation as a result of irreconcilable differences, you come out looking like an ass, and Andie is sure to receive more vitriol than ever.”
“And what about the stuff Georgie found?”
“Up against the story of the cheating father of her unborn baby? Nobody will care. Like you mentioned on the phone, she’s likely to pass it off as a charitable donation, or as paying the premium for top obstetrical care.”
I shook my head and fell back into my chair.
“We’re working on it, Fred, but without evidence of Caroline’s extortion, we can’t weaken her position in the public eye. And if we can’t reverse this perception, any pain we inflict on Caroline will inexorably pale in comparison to the hurt Ms. Foster will endure in the aftermath.”
IT WAS NEARLY lunchtime before I got a chance to step out of the conference room and check my mobile. I’d gone over every detail of Rio with my PR team. They’d listened and shaken their heads, more than convinced Caroline was a lunatic, but they agreed with Dave that there wasn’t enough objective evidence to bring her down.
I was knackered and hungry, but Georgie had already called four times that morning, the last of which had only been a few minutes earlier.
“Georgie, you there?” I asked as soon as the call picked up.
She sounded out of breath and excited. I shoved against the hallway wall, giving space to the lawyers flooding out of the building for lunch.
“What is it, G? Have you gone to the coffee shop yet?”
“Yes! I’ve been sitting at the table right behind Caroline and her dopey doctor for the last fifteen minutes and she hasn’t even noticed!”
“How is that possible?”
“I’ve got a red wig on and everything. I think I look quite cute. Might have to give it a go one of these nights when I’ve the time.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Georgie, have you heard anything?”
She practically squealed. “SO MUCH! I can’t tell you everything right now. I’m in one of the bathrooms and someone’s already knocking on the door. But Fred, get this—the doctor went to university with Caroline, and he’s obviously in love with her. I just know he’s been helping her falsify the pregnancy! It makes so much sense.”
“Has he said that?”
“They only just started talking about it when you called.”
“Get back in there Georgie, and call back on my lawyer’s conference line so I can have him record their conversation. I’ll text you the number.”
The chance that Caroline would say anything incriminating in a public setting was slim to none, but regardless, I ran back into the conference room and explained the situation to Dave as quickly as possible. Just as I finished, the phone rang in the center of the conference table, and for the next thirty minutes we were all privy to Caroline’s conversation. We sat, stunned as Caroline spoke with her friend, Dr. Dunn.
I didn’t care that my stomach was growling with hunger; I hovered over that conference table and listened to Caroline’s voice through the speaker. She was laying on the charm like I’d never heard before, sweet and innocent and disgustingly pleasant as she droned on with her friend.
At first, I thought Georgie had overestimated the content of their conversation.
“This reminds me of the good old days in Cambridge,” he said with a wistful tone.
Caroline giggled and Georgie cleared her throat.
“You know those are some of the fondest memories I have.”
Dr. Dunn leaned closer to the phone. “I did receive your payment the other day, but it would be quite unnecessary if you were amenable to my alternative. Honestly, Caroline. You know I’m mad about you—are you sure it’s worth faking a paternity test just to be with a man who doesn’t love you? You and I could have—”
“Hush, Nick. You know how much this marriage means to me. I love you, you know I do, but I’m too stressed to think about all of this right now. Please don’t make this more difficult than it has to be. You and I will always have something special between us, truly.”
Their tone wouldn’t have drawn the attention of the patrons around them, but to me, her words were good as gold. From “darling, I adore you”, they slipped so easily into the conversation we’d all been waiting for. Dave practically chomped at the bit, hovering over the conference table, tirelessly taking notes on the things we were overhearing.
“We must keep this between us, darling…”
“You’ve been such a good friend to me through this all, you must know how much your help means to me…”
“Freddie insisted on the paternity test as we assumed he would, but he would never suspect your involvement…”
“Sophie will run the story as soon as I give her the go-ahead…”
Caroline had finally slipped up and dug her own grave, and Georgie, the brilliant little detective, had been there to listen to her do it. I’d known for weeks that Caroline Montague was a manipulative, conspiratorial, dishonest woman, and now the world would know too. It was time to finish this whole thing once and for all.
CAROLINE AGREED TO dinner right away. She answered my call with a ‘darling, I’m so happy to hear from you’ and she’d crooned into my mobile about how she’d been hoping for a reconciliation once we’d arrived back in London. She admitted that the circumstances of the pregnancy must have come as quite a shock, but that she knew, in time, I would come to understand her reasoning behind putting a wedge between Andie and I.
“I just couldn’t lose you like this Freddie,” she said, reaching across the table at the restaurant Georgie and I had agreed upon. We’d only been sitting at the table for ten minutes and I’d already had enough. Her hand fell on top of mine and I took in the sh
“I think you’ll make a wonderful father, Freddie.”
Had I eaten the bread they’d brought to our table, it would have come back up with that comment.
“How is the pregnancy going so far?” I asked, careful to watch her face for any sort of tell.
She pressed her hand to her stomach as if there was really something there other than the French baguette she’d stuffed down her throat a second earlier. “I’ve been having bouts of morning sickness off and on, but everything I read says that’s normal.”
“I’m just glad I was able to make it to all of your races.” Of course she was. They couldn’t resist showing her on the stadium screen. She played the role of the nervous fiancée just the way they wanted her to. “You were brilliant, Frederick,” she continued.
I nodded and took a sip of water.
“How has your mom taken the baby news?” she asked.
I thought back to the call I’d had with her the day before. It’d been strained and short. “What will you do now that you’ve returned from Rio, Frederick? You’ve turned down every event. The press are beside themselves to get an exclusive with you. I think you ought to come out and clear the air. You need to let the world know that Caroline is your fiancée and the mother of your child, and that you’re not leaving her for some girl you met four weeks ago.”
How had so much changed in four weeks?
I shook my head, glanced back up at Caroline, and lied. “I haven’t spoken to her in a few days.”
Her brow perked. “Ah, well, I’m sure she’s so excited.”
I couldn’t sit there any longer. I’d gotten her to the restaurant and she had her guard down; sitting there any longer wouldn’t serve any purpose.
“Georgie can’t wait to become an aunt.”
She swallowed down a piece of bread slowly and then reached for her glass of water. After a long, drawn out sip, she finally glanced up to me. “Oh, that’s such good news.”
I leaned forward so that the nice couple at the table beside us—people who were actually enjoying their dinner—wouldn’t hear me. “It’s a shame she won’t become one for quite some time.”
Her eyes narrowed, but her tone stayed light. “What do you mean?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, give it a rest already, Caroline. You aren’t pregnant.” She set her glass on the table as I continued. “Georgie found the emails you sent to your friend, Dr. Dunn. Nice guy with a practice in central London? He must have had no trouble adding your name to the ultrasound photos.” I never gave her a chance to cut me off. “Tell me, was he going to lie to my face when we returned to London? Pass along forged medical records with your name on them? What about a paternity test? Would we have seen him about that as well?”
Caroline picked up her napkin and dabbed at the corners of her mouth. She seemed wholly unaffected by the news. She didn’t blush or fidget. When she’d finished wiping away the imaginary crumbs, she dropped her napkin to her lap and leaned over the table confidently.
“This is ridiculous. You can’t prove any of this nonsense.”
I laughed. “I haven’t needed proof since you first showed your true colors. I’m announcing our separation as soon as I leave tonight.”
Her demeanor shifted then. The polite, anxious expression was wiped clean like she’d taken a towel to her features. She looked like a snake ready to strike. Her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed tightly together.
“The fact that you still think you’re in control right now is truly the sad part of all of this.” I focused on the slow-spreading smirk as it overtook her features. “Don’t you think I planned for this?” She laughed and flattened her hand across her stomach. “Whoops! I’ve lost the baby. Look at that.” She shook her head and shot me a pitiful glare. “I suppose the stress of having a cheating fiancé would cause any woman to miscarry, don’t you think?” She didn’t give me time to reply. “Tell me dear: how do you think the world will treat your little slut when they find out that she’s not just taken my husband and ruined my fairytale life, but also killed my sweet baby?”
She had a valid point, but she’d underestimated me. She assumed I still thought she had an ounce of humanity left inside her, but I knew better. There was no negotiating with Caroline. I knew that if I sat her down at dinner and revealed my hand, she’d reveal hers with a gloating laugh. I could try and be gentle and persuade her to back off, but it would get me nowhere.
“Her fate is linked to mine, Frederick. If you try to pull away from me, it will only tighten the noose around Andie’s neck. But you have an alternative: I know the media will love to hear about how you’ve stood by my side through a devastating miscarriage. Sure, you’ll do some groveling and they’ll make you pay for the affair, but in the end it’ll all work out.” She smiled. “Don’t you see, Freddie? You’ll never get rid of me.”
I shook my head and reached into the pocket of my trousers for my mobile. At first, I’d wanted to keep the press out of it, but Georgie, Dave, and my PR team had convinced me that transparency was our ally. I already had the article pulled up on my mobile. It’d been published twenty minutes earlier, as soon as Caroline’s ass had hit the chair inside the restaurant.
She took the mobile from my hand, but I was too anxious to watch her read the whole thing. The article was long—part interview, part exposé—and it touched on everything from my Olympic records to Andie and Caroline.
“It’s an exposé,” I said, reaching over and swiping my hand across the screen so an image of the fake ultrasound photo popped up, full-screen. “You see, for the last few months, I’ve largely ignored the press. They’ve been hounding my family and my manager to get to me.” I saw the mobile shaking in her hand, but I didn’t feel bad for her. “This time I answered every question they wanted to know: the forced arrangement between you and I, my involvement with Andie, and, most importantly, how you lied to the world about a baby that never existed.”
The color drained from her face and she dropped the mobile to the table. It shook the stemware, drawing the attention of the guests around us, but I trudged on, mostly because at that point, it felt bloody good to unravel the snake that’d been coiled around me for the last few months.
“Oh and we contacted Dr. Dunn—well, I should say, my lawyer contacted him. He signed an affidavit that details his involvement in your lies. Since he was so cooperative, we won’t pursue criminal charges, though he surely won’t get off so easily with the Medical Council.”
She reached for her mobile in her purse, but I shook my head.
“If you’re about to contact Sophie Boyle, I wouldn’t bother. She’s actually the person who interviewed me.” I could see the shock sink in. “Wasn’t she a friend of yours? Nice girl—bit of a mercenary, don’t you think? I would say you should pick your friends a bit more wisely in the future.”
She let go of her mobile and closed her clutch.
“Fuck you, Freddie,” she spat before sliding her chair away from the table. “This isn’t over.”
A part of me felt bad for her then—a small, tiny iota that diminished the longer she stared daggers at me.
“You’ve done this to yourself, Caroline. What happened to you?”
Her eyes were filled with such hatred. She reared back as if she were about to backhand me, but Georgie was already there, holding up her phone with one hand and catching Caroline’s arm in the other.
“Hey roomie! I’ll never forget the wonderful memories we’ve shared—this one in particular.”
Caroline shoved Georgie back so hard that Georgie nearly lost her footing and fell onto the table behind her.
I stood up and rounded the table to put myself between the two of them. The restaurant’s manager was already approaching us, concerned about the commotion. We’d overstayed our welcome, and I had no intention of ruining the night for everyone around us. I threw more than enough money on the table and turned to escort Georgie from the restaurant.
“Let’s go, G.”
She held up her phone. “I got every single word! And that near-slap at the end. That was pure magic.”
“This isn’t over Freddie!” Caroline yelled out after me.
I shook my head and kept walking.
She was wrong. It was over, and once the shock of the news wore off, she’d realize it as well. With the article, the doctor’s signed confession, and Georgie’s video, Caroline had undone herself. She could trash me in the news all she wanted, but no one with half a brain would take her seriously after the reality of her insanity spread. She’d assumed that lies about infidelity and pregnancies would trump all, but it turned out truth burned far hotter than Caroline’s fiction. London socialite turned absolute whacko? I couldn’t have made it up better if I’d tried. Sophie Boyle had practically salivated over the phone when I’d started to lay out the story for her.
As I escorted Georgie out of the restaurant and toward a waiting cab, she glanced back at me. “How do you feel?”
I inhaled a breath of night air.
I felt free. For the first time since Henry’s death, I finally felt like I was ready to handle the responsibility of my title without caving to my mum’s demands. I could be Freddie Archibald, swimmer, duke, and normal bloke. She hadn’t thrown Caroline at me out of malice. She’d suffered in the last few years, more than she let on to Georgie and me. She’d lost her husband and her son and she wanted something to look forward to, she wanted an engagement and a wedding and future grandchildren. She wanted a new daughter-in-law she could welcome into the family and dote on, and when I’d broken the news about Caroline to her on the way to dinner, I’d promised her that soon enough, she’d have one.
The Summer Games: Settling the Score by R.S. Grey / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes